Now that Nathan Gerry is back where he belongs at safety, Bo Pelini, John Papuchis and Charlton Warren have a helluva decision to make come fall.
If I’ve learned anything about Pelini’s defense over the course of his first six years at Nebraska it’s that he leans on experience. He really leans on experience on the defensive end of the ball and practically knocks it over leaning so hard on the defensive line and safety spots.
Which leads me to believe that true sophomore Nathan Gerry – who took all the first-string reps at safety for the injured Corey Cooper – won’t be starting in that spot come fall. But I’m having second thoughts.
“Nate Gerry had a really good spring, period,” Pelini said Saturday.
Gerry has a nose for the ball and plays like a wild animal.
Seriously, ask anyone who had the chance to watch spring practice. He runs around like a feral human when his defensive teammates make a play and hits like a truck. His eyes tracked that Tommy Armstrong pass that he intercepted like the NSA tracks your Facebook profile.
“I’ve seen him do it before a couple times,” defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said. “It’s a natural thing for him.”
I’ve seen it too. A coupe of times in limited media viewing time during spring ball, in fact. The frightening testimony in the case against Gerry is 6-foot-1 and 215 and goes by “Coop.” He’ll be a senior coming back for his second consecutive year as a starter where he can hold claim to being the most consistently solid mainstay during Nebraska shuffling defense in 2013, where he led the team with 91 tackles.
With his injury that kept him out of spring practice, Cooper has also been a mentor to Gerry, who spent 2013 misplaced at linebacker.
“Coop being out gave me the opportunity to go against good athletes like Ameer (Abdullah) and Kenny (Bell), and those type of guys. One thing that helped me a lot was Coop actually, helping me on the field in spring, helping me with the mental aspects of the game more than the physical aspects,” Gerry said.
He’s having more fun in the defensive backfield too, he said. I wouldn’t want to be a Big Ten tailback or receiver on the receiving end of that train with an 18-gallon tank full of adrenaline.
“My head was kind of rattling playing linebacker last year,” he said. “I feel that I’m more comfortable playing safety, so it allows me to be more confident back there. Playing linebacker kind of helped me understand the whole defense, where I can play more confidently, where it allows me to have more fun.”
Sophomore safety Leroy Alexander (an underrated athlete in his own right) has to watch his back as well when Cooper returns.
Gerry is the type of players that’s enough of a tweener, yet irresistible enough as an athlete that you need to name a position after him, a la “mosterback” or “whip linebacker” or “peso.” The most recent comparison would be Dejon Gomes in my mind; a freak athlete with ball skills, who always was underrated in physicality. With the sixth defensive back spot wide open for the taking, Gerry could easily carve himself a niche, playing in the defensive backfield where he’s more comfortable.
“I was more of of a (smaller) guy playing linebacker, now I’m one of the bigger guys playing safety,” Gerry said. “I think that’s helped me a lot, getting more depth, compered to playing four yards off the ball, where I can see more things. A lot more things actually.”
He’s isn’t lacking in speed and athleticism. In high school he broke the South Dakota state record for the 100-meter dash, running it in 10.3 seconds. You might see him now and think he’s too muscle-bound to run that again. Then you might look at his high school photos, and see that he looked just as bulky and intimidating back then as he does now.
“I lifted with him one time. He can out-lift me basically,” Valentine said.
As he left the media room, I asked Gerry if he, the 218-pound defensive back can really can out-lift Valentine, the 315-pound defensive lineman. Which ones, I asked.
“I’d probably say squat and clean,” he responded.